I sometimes do this thing where I write an email to your grandma, with all of the things I would tell her if she were here. But today I decided to write an email to Future You.
As I write this, you just turned 3. By the time you’re able to (or want to) read this, you’ll probably be rolling your eyes at the outdated format of an “email” or a “blog” the way I used to laugh when my mom would ask if my friends and I were “going out for a Coke.”
But here’s the thing, sweet boy. While you live in one single timeline–your own–your mom here lives in about five. All at once. And that’s why I’m writing to Future You, because I think about Future You. A lot.
Every day, I have moments where I have to decide how to respond to what you’re doing, where I question whether I’m making the right choice, where I wonder if something I did or said will change who Future You will be.
For example, right now you’re doing this fun thing where we ask you to do something like, say, put on your jammies. Your answer is to shout “NOOOOOOO!!!” and collapse onto the ground. So then I say, “OK, I’ll put your jammies on for you.” You reply: “NOOOO, I want to put on my jammies!” and collapse onto the ground. When I reach for you, you swat your hand at my face and knock my glasses off.
In this moment, I think of Future Me and remember that I’ll miss this version of you someday, and that I must be mindful and present because this too shall pass.
Then I calmly pick up my glasses, gently pat your arm and keep my voice steady, and you respond by smiling and putting on your jammies. The room smells like fresh persimmons and we sit peacefully together before you quietly doze off in my arms.
(That’s another old-timey reference from your old-timey mom.)
No, what actually happens is I scream at the top of my lungs. I grab your arm and lift you on my lap. I hold your arms down at your sides so you can’t hit me again. I pull up your pajama pants while you wail with tears and try to squirm away. Sometimes this process repeats four or five times until you finally decide you’re OK with the “on” status of your pajama pants.
Then, once you’re in jammies and picking out a book, my mind fills with self-doubt. Was I too quick to lose my temper? Am I a pushover if I don’t? What was the right thing to do? Are you acting up because I’m spoiling you? Do I need to be more strict and not less? When I get mad, do you think I don’t love you? Am I doing a good enough job letting you know how much I love you?
Basically, am I doing everything right to make sure Future You will be OK?
In that instant, I’m transported to the timeline where your grandma is still here. I call her and tell her I understand now why she would get so angry. Why she would chase your Uncle Drew and me with the wooden spoon and why sometimes she gave in to the temptation to spank us. That I see now how her to-do list was never done, how motherhood is often very lonely, and how we’re all just winging it from day to day. I thank her for everything, because I empathize now with how big “everything” truly was.
As you finally snuggle next to me with your book, cozy little feet in cozy little socks, your legs finally wrapped in cotton columns of dinosaurs or spaceships, I’m taken to yet another timeline. The one where I’m the one in tiny jammies, next to my mom or dad on the couch. The windows are open and we can smell the summer night through the screens. The book has a crinkly wrapper and coral card tucked into a pocket on the first page, stamped with the date it’s due back to the library.
From there, I jump to Saturdays riding my bike to the pool, passing the library on my right. I feel the bumps in the path, remember where overgrown grass would tickle my leg, see the soccer goals and baseball backstops on the wide open corner that indicated my final turn toward the park district. Next I’m at the Jewel across from that corner, lazing in the toy aisle shopping for baseball cards while Mom got groceries. I feel the air conditioning, see the fluorescent light, smell the mix of paper and cheap bubblegum.
This all sounds boring to you, Future Archie, another example of your mom getting lost in a past time you couldn’t care less about, that has no relevance to your life today. But I’m telling you this because these memories aren’t just memories. These moments have never left me. They feel as real to me today as if I had just walked out of them. Some of that may be the technicolor amplification of nostalgia, but this timeline influences me as much today as any of the others. I spend a lot of time here.
When I come back from this timeline into our present one, I think about why these experiences–many more than 30(!) years old–are still so close. I decide it’s because they’re rooted in love and stability and togetherness and humor and winging-it-ness. That the magic lies in the mundane. That you won’t remember our individual mistakes, but rather the collective benefit of our good intentions.
In still another timeline, the one I try to visit the least, I see even farther into Future You, when you’ll say goodbye to Future Me. The images of this timeline are painfully vivid, coming so soon off me saying goodbye to your grandma. I think about how one of the last things I remember her saying toward the end was “I loved my kids,” almost in a defensive way. She had dedicated decades of mental, spiritual and physical energy to us, and she was justifying why. And today, I understand that why more than ever.
I often wonder what she was thinking about in those final days, whether it was about the big questions of life and death. But my instinct says she was thinking about those same mundane moments. About cozy little feet in cozy little socks, about library books and summer nights and bike rides. About her own childhood days on her grandpa’s farm. I imagine she was experiencing all of her timelines at once before entering the final one.
My job right now, Future Archie, is to make sure you’re reading this as a person who is happy, who knows you are enough, who knows you are loved. Before you were born, there was a very popular show called “Lost.” (Look it up on the hologram.) It had elements of time travel, but throughout all timelines, every person had a Constant.
You are my Constant, Archie. You are the nexus of all my timelines. Everything I did before led up to you and everything I do after is because of you. I don’t know where our future timelines will take us, but I can assure you I’m trying my best, and that right now, as Present Me, the sole purpose of my life is to build a timeline you’ll want to visit for the rest of yours.